Society of St. Pius X breaks ground on new $30 million building in St. Marys

The Society of St. Pius X broke ground Sunday in St. Marys on its new $30 million Immaculata...
The Society of St. Pius X broke ground Sunday in St. Marys on its new $30 million Immaculata building that will stand 12 stories tall and seat 1,500 people.(WIBW)
Published: May. 31, 2020 at 5:31 PM CDT
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A big church is coming to a small town in Pottawatomie County.

The Society of St. Pius X on Sunday broke ground on its new $30 million Immaculata building, which will stand 12 stories tall and seat more than 1,500 people.

A crowd estimated at 1,200 people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Immaculata building and a Mass that followed on Sunday morning.

The ceremony and Mass were held in a grassy area just north of the Society of St. Pius X campus in St. Marys, where the new Immaculata will be built. The location is near N. 2nd and Elm streets.

The new building will replace the original Immaculata, which burned down in 1978, shortly after the Society of St. Pius X came to St. Marys.

The Rev. Patrick Rutledge, pastor of the Society of St. Pius X church in St. Marys, said the original Immaculata building was constructed in the early 1900s by the Jesuits, an order of Roman Catholic priests who owned the property at the time.

"For over 40 years now, we've been waiting to rebuild it," Rutledge said. "So today is the day we break ground."

Among the distinctives of the Society of St. Pius X is that it continues to celebrate Masses in Latin. However, Rutledge says, the Society of St. Piux X holds to other traditional Catholic teachings, as well.

"It's not just having the Mass in Latin," Rutledge says. "It's all the sacred rites that are surrounding that Mass. But it's also just the church's traditional doctrine."

At present, the Society of St. Pius X offers six weekend Masses at its Assumption Chapel, located on its campus in St. Marys. Additional Masses have been offered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 4,500 people attend the weekend Masses.

Rutledge noted the groundbreaking ceremony came on Pentecost Sunday, when Christians commemorate the Holy Ghost coming to believers in Jesus some 2,000 years ago.

Many are attracted to the Society of St. Pius X because it holds to Catholic traditions that predate changes implemented by the Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965 and implemented a number of changes in the Roman Catholic Church.

"For 2,000 years," Rutledge says, "the Holy Ghost has taught a consistent message through the Catholic Church, and there has been, in the last 50 years, sort of a digression in theology. And we choose to stick with what has always been taught."

The building project comes at a time when the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of possible sexual misconduct among priests in Catholic churches in the state. KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said the investigation includes all four Roman Catholic dioceses in the state -- based in Kansas City, Wichita, Salina and Dodge City -- and the Society of St. Pius X.

No breakdown was provided in the number of cases alleged in each diocese or individual church.

The Society of St. Pius X isn't a part of any of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Kanasas.

While declining to comment on the investigation, Rutledge said members of the Society of St. Pius X church are excited about the new Immaculata building. He said it will be the largest church in the Society of St. Pius X, which is based in Switzerland and is active at locations across the United States and six continents.

"Absoultely," he said. "The people here have been waiting for this for over 40 years. So it's understandable that we're very excited for the day."

Church members have come from across the United States to be a part of the Society of St. Pius X church in St. Marys, a town of about 2,700 people.

In addition to the church, the Society of St. Pius X also has the St Marys Academy, a school for children in grades kindergarten through 12. Some 900 students attend the academy. The Society of St. Pius X also has a two-year college, which at present has about 80 students.

Ultimately, Rutledge said, people are coming to the Society of St. Pius X because of its adherence to traditional Catholic teachings.

"We're growing because, again, the church's tradition works," he said.

The church's growth is the result of people coming to St. Marys from other areas of the nation as well as children being born to families who are in the congregation.

"We have our own sort of organic growth here locally, just from the families that we have here," Rutlege said. "We have almost 120 baptisms a year -- so, many children. And, families continue to move here. As usual, they want to be close to a Catholic school, where they can trust the formations being given, and be in a Catholic community like this where they can have other people to depend on and help them live a Catholic life."

Nick Novelly, a member of the Society of St. Pius X church in St. Marys, said the Immaculata is the centerpiece of the campus.

"The Immaculata is the heart of the campus," he said. "It's the heart of this whole communty. And so to finally be able to rebuild it after 40 years is an amazing thing. And the response worldwide for this has been tremendous. Donors from all six continents have contributed to this effort."

Lori Payne, another longtime member of the Society of St. Pius X church in St. Marys, said she was excited for the new building.

"For me, this day is so much," she said. "It's so much bigger than what's going on around us. There's so much chaos and so much turmoil in the world today. This is a no-fear zone for us."

She added that the new building would offer a place of peace for people in the "heartland of America."

Sean Romer, who came to Sunday's groundbreaking event from Sanford, Fla., said the event was a "very happy occasion" for members of the parish.

"We're already having conversations like, what's going to be the first baptism, the first confirmation, first wedding," Romer said. "It's a time for excitement for this parish, where they've paid their dues for a long time here, to lead up to this day and this moment. So a lot of excitement today."

Construction on the new building is set to begin in August with the completion schedueld for 2022.